Burns and Black Lives Matter @JanetChristie's Mum's the word

Where does Rabbie stand?

Black Lives Matter graffiti, Edinburgh. Picture: Janet Christie

As history catches up with them and statues of the not so great and good topple all around us, Rabbie Burns’ spot in Leith stands vacant. Ousted not by Black Lives Matter but that very Edinburgh controversy, the trams, a saga that keeps running, temporarily removing the Bard.

What would Burns say were he here today? Not about the trams – from his plinth over the past 122 years he had them rattling around his well turned ankles last time round so he might mutter something about “best laid plans” – but about slavery. He had plenty to say about chains and slavery in Scot’s Wha Hae, and in his own lifetime in Scotland there were workers bound for life as ‘serfs’, but where did the Bard stand on black slaves?

We know he was due to travel to Jamaica for a job on a slave plantation when his poems found success and he stayed in Scotland instead. We also know he published The Slave’s Lament in 1792. Whether written or collected by him, the song is an argument for abolition.

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The Slave’s Lament

It was in sweet Senegal that my foes did me enthral

For the lands of Virginia, – ginia-o:

Torn from that lovely shore, and must never see it more;

And alas! I am weary, weary O;

Torn from that lovely shore, and must never see it more;

And alas! I am weary, weary O

All on that charming coast is no bitter snow and frost:

Like the lands of Virginia, – ginia, O

There streams for ever flow, and there flowers for ever blow,

And alas! I am weary, weary O:

The burden I must bear, while the cruel scourge [whip] I fear,

In the lands of Virginia, – ginia, O:

And I think on friends most dear, with the bitter, bitter tear

In the lands of Virginia, – ginia, O:

And alas! I am weary, weary O

In the lands of Virginia, – ginia, O

The burden I must bear, while the cruel scourge I fear,

And I think on friends most dear, with the bitter, bitter tear

In the lands of Virginia, – ginia, O

In the meantime, further along the proposed tram route lies the coronavirus times equivalent of a plinth, a fly-tipped mattress sprayed with a message for today: Black Lives Mattress.

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